Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman (2005)
Eight people locked in a house must solve a series of puzzles to stay alive while a detective searches for the man behind their kidnapping.
The second film in a franchise is crucial to its continued success. It must advance the storyline while paying adequate respect to the first film, but it also needs to up the ante and be even more brutal and intense than the first. Saw II, while never reaching the iconic heights of the original, hits all of the points it needs to to turn the original massively popular indie film into a whole-ass franchise. By upping the victims from two guys in a room to eight folks in a much bigger trap house (which I don't think is what that term means), we're guaranteed more blood, more violence, and 100% more Wahlberg.
This time around, Jigsaw has kidnapped seven former criminals and the child of a police detective, trapping them in an abandoned house and subjecting them to poisonous gas that will kill them if they don't find antidotes within two hours. The antidotes are hidden within dangerous contraptions within various parts of the house, exposing Jigsaw's subjects to needle pits, handgun peepholes, and fiery furnaces ready to burn them alive. Of course, this is a Saw movie, so you probably shouldn't expect very many of them to make it out alive.
By contrasting the victims within the house with the police officer (the aforementioned Donnie Wahlberg) and his questioning of Jigsaw, the movie avoids becoming single-mindedly focused on death and torture. It maintains a lot of the mystery aspect of the original while still allowing room for the increased savagery. And increased it most definitely is: I still can't get through the needle pit scene without feeling that weird sensation that you get when watching your own blood being drawn.
Saw II also firmly establishes John Kramer as the Jigsaw character. He was obviously present in the original, but 90% of his screentime is spent face down on the floor. This time, he's the main character, a killer with a conscience and purposeful intent. The doctrine of the Jigsaw character, as well as his refusal to purposefully take life and his desire to actually have his "victims" survive, is incredibly complex and could be studied in a college philosophy class. Is there anything inherently wrong in teaching people how to appreciate their own lives by putting them in a situation where they have to sacrifice a piece of themselves to survive?
I mean, yeah. Let's not look too deep into it, it's obviously evil as shit.
Every part of Saw II works. The cinematography is perfectly grimy and gritty, setting the stage through ambience as well as what you see on screen. The actors are great for the most part, though there are a couple who are a little weak (especially some of the non-main police officers). The writing is stellar, both paying homage to the original and helping to advance the legend of Jigsaw. Finally, the score, with that iconic Saw theme and background, works perfectly for the film. You really can't ask for a whole lot more from a sequel.
Saw II is a decent followup to the original, successfully expanding the mythology and giving the audience more of what they want. One of the reasons I got into reviewing horror movies is because I was sick and tired of watching people shit all over a movie because it wasn't Oscar-bait and was instead created to showcase some gnarly blood and guts. Saw II is clearly more of the latter, but you wouldn't be watching it if you didn't already know that, and any attempt by a reviewer to watch the film as anything other than that is barking up the wrong tree. In its pursuit of making a more extreme movie that's watchable, engagingly twisty, and impactful on the face of the genre, it's an accomplishment as a film and one of the better immediate sequels in horror.
Who this movie is for: Saw fans, Torture porn aficionados, Dirty cops
Bottom line: While Saw II isn't quite as good as its predecessor, it is still a wonderfully deranged movie with some fantastic scenes of violence and a twisty-as-hell plot. It successfully extends the reach of the original film and helped turn the Saw movies into a franchise. This one has a ton of influence on later films in the series, and it does a great job of setting all of that up. It's also Darren Lynn Bousman's directorial debut, and he's making quite a name for himself in the genre.